One early lesson that’s emerged this year is that many candidates need to work harder than ever at getting noticed, especially when a rival campaign is able to easily capture the media spotlight. Taking a traditional approach has proven less successful so far this cycle.
Television has been seen as the best way for candidates to establish their identity with voters since the Kennedy-Nixon debates. But digital campaigning is now at the point where an online ad campaign can be just as effective a rollout as a big broadcast TV buy.
That’s because digital’s reach is growing by the day. In fact, media buyer Zenith Optimedia recently reported that it now expects digital advertising to overtake TV as the biggest advertising category globally by next year – 12 months ahead of earlier estimates. This isn’t exactly news.
Television viewership of networks and even cable has been trending down rather dramatically since 2008. Traditional services are being replaced with Netflix, Amazon and other IP-based alternatives that are on demand. According to Pew Research, approximately 24 percent of the U.S. population has cut the cord, high among them Hispanics, Millennials and urban households.
By contrast, it’s estimated by ISP networks that household reach through digital channels is quantifiable to as many as 85 percent of the electorate. That said, digital still hovers around of 20-25 percent of campaign spending. That isn’t likely to change quickly.
Media consultants and campaign managers tell you openly they spend their resources on TV because they can point to Nielsen and Rentrak for GRPs of audience reach and impact in the polling. And in this identity phase of a campaign, polling is key.
Digital audience targeting has advanced dramatically from 2008 to present. We are way past counting Facebook Likes, keyword buys and onboarding the raw voter files to a 25-percent match rate to cookies.
Options from within the walled gardens of social and search networks exist today attempt to close the match-rate gap to 50 percent. Sure, this helps, but by definition this is only half-perfect. Using IP targeting with geo-fencing and mobile cross-device targeting can improve match rates to well over 90 percent and offer campaigns immediate availability for targeting at home, at work and at relevant events. But these matches are typically unverifiable.
In our always-on social and video culture, town-hall style events are being covered by not just C-SPAN, but dozens of cable TV stations and through Periscope, Twitter and online news sites. These events and digital channels have been primary sources of political news in this cycle.
The campaigns’ town-hall events provide candidates with important exposure to key constituencies who are typically not ambivalent about their support. In digital, however, candidate information is being distributed to unknown voters whose identities are a mystery. If campaigns could in fact verify the contribution that digital exposure is able to make in creating reach and accuracy to the right audience, it opens the door for digital campaigning being a larger part of the media mix.
Digital being able to provide the equivalent of a universal ID to the voter is key. This closes the match-rate gap and improves visibility across devices. But what will push digital over the top is when device and platform independent targeting can be turned into polling numbers that are as repeatable and as valid to a campaign manager as GRPs on TV.
Ray Kingman is the CEO of Semcasting Inc., a digital marketing firm.